Lime probe not compromised, prosecutor general insists

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Lime probe not compromised, prosecutor general insists

Kim Bong-hyun, former chairman of Star Mobility and key suspect in a financial fraud scandal surrounding Lime Asset Management, in a file photo from April. [YONHAP]

Kim Bong-hyun, former chairman of Star Mobility and key suspect in a financial fraud scandal surrounding Lime Asset Management, in a file photo from April. [YONHAP]

 
Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl on Sunday denied allegations he was deliberately refraining from investigating opposition politicians caught up in a corruption scandal related to Korea’s largest hedge fund.
 
Yoon, whose neutrality as the country’s top prosecutor has been challenged by the Ministry of Justice and the ruling Democratic Party (DP), told reporters in a phone call the suggestion he was hindering a probe into the opposition — as opposed to the fierce investigation mounted toward administration allies — was a “nonsensical story.”

 
The remark followed a Justice Ministry suggestion earlier that day that Yoon intentionally did not order a thorough probe despite being briefed on several corruption allegations involving opposition figures raised by Kim Bong-hyun, a key suspect in a financial fraud case involving Lime Asset Management.

 
Kim was arrested in April for embezzlement related to a financial fraud case that brought down Lime and generated around 1.6 trillion won ($1.4 billion) in losses for its investors.
 
The executive earlier this month testified in a trial he paid a bribe of 50 million won to Kang Ki-jung, President Moon Jae-in’s former senior secretary for political affairs.
 
The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) attacked the administration, calling on the state prosecution service to mount an investigation against the Blue House and alleged corruption among senior administration figures.

 
But the tables were turned on the PPP when Kim sent a letter to the media on Friday claiming he had not only lobbied Moon administration officials but also an influential opposition politician and sitting prosecutors.
 
Kim said he spent 10 million won ($8,700) on a party and gifts last year for three former and sitting prosecutors, one later assigned to investigate the Lime case.
 
“The lawyer [who is also a former prosecutor] said he had finished speaking to the person in charge of the Lime investigation at the Seoul Nambu District Prosecutors’ Office,” Kim wrote.
 
“He said if I [made testimony to] help incriminate ruling party politicians and Blue House [Political Affairs] Secretary Kim Ki-jung, [my actions] would be reported to Yoon and I would be allowed to stand trial on bail,” he added.

 
Kim further wrote he had lobbied a top opposition figure with a similar bribe, and that he had told prosecutors on his case about this, but that no subsequent investigation followed. He said that during the probe he received both threats and attempts at appeasement from prosecutors, leading him to suspect the fairness of the investigation was compromised.
 
The suggestion that prosecutors had engineered the inquiry to suit a certain political agenda prompted the Justice Ministry to question Kim directly for three days from Friday to Sunday without going through prosecutors.

 
The ministry in a statement Sunday said it was looking into allegations that Yoon deliberately limited the probe into the opposition despite Kim’s testimony, in line with Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s order on Friday to “clearly reveal” the truth of the matter.
 
The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office hit back fiercely against the Justice Ministry’s suggestion, telling reporters in a text message Sunday that it was an attempt to slander the prosecutor general with “baseless” testimony.

 
While the PPP has fallen silent, the DP has gone on the offensive, noting Saturday the scandal testified to just how compromised the state prosecution service was.
 
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK   [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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